THE VISION OF ST. ANSGAR
This vision is part of The Life of St. Ansgar, archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg (801–65), of which two versions, both in Latin, exist: one in prose by St. Rimbert (d. 888), Ansgar’s successor; and the other in verse by Gualdo (1065), Rimbert’s successor. Rimbert’s version of the vision appears in chapter 3 of his Life of St. Ansgar, of which there are many editions.
When the Day of Pentecost came, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was at this time poured forth upon the apostles, enlightened and refreshed his mind so we believe; and the same night he saw in a vision that he was about to encounter sudden death when, in the very act of dying, he summoned to his aid the holy apostle Peter and the blessed John the Baptist. When, as it seemed to him, his soul was in the act of leaving his body and was taking to itself another and very beautiful kind of body which was no longer subject to death, and from which all disquiet was absent, at the very moment of his death and of wondering surprise these two men appeared. The elder of the two he recognized at once, without being told, by his white head, his straight and thick locks, his ruddy face, his sad countenance, his white and colored dress, and his short stature, as St. Peter. The other was a youth taller of stature, with flowing beard, brown and curly hair, lean face, and cheerful countenance, and was dressed in a silken robe. Him he knew to be St. John. These, then, stood on either side of him, and as his soul left his body he seemed to be surrounded by an unending light which filled the whole world. By means of this light and without any effort on his part, the saints mentioned above led him in a strange and indescribable way till they came to a certain place which, without making any inquiry, he knew to be the fire of purgatory, and here they left him.
When he had suffered much and seemed to have experienced the blackest darkness and the most enormous pressure and choking, he was deprived of all memory and his only thought was how could so terrible a punishment exist. When he had been tortured here for three days, as he thought though the time seemed to him to be more than a thousand years, because of the greatness of the suffering - the men before mentioned returned and stood by him with much greater joy than before. Advancing with a yet more delightful progress they led him through great and ineffable brightness, progressing without motion and by no material path. To adopt his own words: " I saw," he said, " from afar, various ranks of saints, some nearer to me and some standing far from the east, but looking towards it, and together praising Him who appeared in the east, whilst some worshiped with bent heads, downcast faces and outstretched hands. When we had arrived at the place where the light rises, we beheld four and twenty elders, even as it is written in the Apocalypse, who appeared sitting in their seats whilst leaving abundant room for others to approach. They also looked with reverence towards the cast, and offered to God unspeakable praises. The praises of those who sang all together brought to me the most delightful refreshment, but after I returned to my body I could by no means retain them in my mind. In the cast, where the light rises, was a marvelous brightness, an unapproachable light of unlimited and excessive brilliance, in which was included every splendid color and everything delightful to the eye. All the ranks of the saints, who stood round rejoicing, derived their happiness therefrom. The brightness was of so great extent that I could see neither beginning nor end thereof.
When I was able to look round both far and near amidst the unending light, I could not see what was within, but saw only, the outside edge; nevertheless, I believed that He was there concerning whom Peter said, " on whom the angels desire to look."
From Him proceeded unlimited brightness whereby the saints far and near were illuminated. He too was, in a sense, in all of them, and they in Him. He surrounded everything from outside; He controlled and met the needs of all; He protected them from above and sustained them from beneath. The sun and the moon afforded no light there; neither was the earth nor the firmament visible. But even this brightness was not such as to interfere with the sight of those who gazed, but it was at once most pleasing to the eyes and brought complete satisfaction to the mind. When I spoke of the elders sitting I meant that in a certain sense they may be said to have sat. For there was nothing material there, nothing possessed any body, although there was an appearance as of a body which I cannot describe. The beautiful light round those who were sitting proceeded from God Himself and extended like a rainbow. When, then I had been brought by the men whom I mentioned into the presence of this unending light, where the majesty of Almighty God was revealed to me without need for anyone to explain, and when they and I had offered our united adoration, a most sweet voice, the sound of which was more distinct than all other sounds, and which seemed to me to fill the whole world, came forth from the same divine majesty, and addressed me and said, " Go and return to Me crowned with martyrdom." At the sound of this voice the whole choir of saints who were praising God became silent and adored with downcast faces. I saw throughout no form from which these words, proceeded, After hearing the voice I become sad, because I was compelled to return to the earth ; but, satisfied with the promise that I should return, I turned to depart with the before mentioned leaders.
As they came and returned with me they spoke not a word, but they looked on me with pious affection even as a mother looks upon her only son. Thus it was that 1 returned to the body. In going and returning I experienced no difficulty or delay, because we arrived at once at the place to which we went. Though I seem to have told something of the greatest of all delights, I confess that the pen can in no way express all of which the mind is conscious. Nor is the mind conscious of what actually existed, for that was revealed to me which eye has not seen, nor car heard, nor has entered into the heart of man."
As a result of this vision, which I have described in the words which he had himself dictated, the servant of God was both terrified and comforted, and in the fear of the Lord he began to live more carefully, to cleave day by day to good deeds, and to hope that by the mercy of God, in whatever way He might choose, he might be able to obtain the crown of martyrdom.
HOW ANOTHER IN LIKE MANNER, BEING AT THE POINT OF DEATH, SAW THE PLACE OF PUNISHMENT APPOINTED FOR HIM IN HELL
OR THE VISION OF THE MONK OF BERNICIA
This vision, of about 400 words, is included in Book 5, Chapter 14 of Bede’ s Historia. The Vision of the Monk of Bernicia (between Tyne and Forth, later the northern part of the kingdom of Northumbria), a vision of hell, is rarely discussed among visions of the otherworld. It is, however, a brief vision by a sinner, who sees the places reserved for his punishment after death. As a monk he led a loose and drunken life and did not participate in church services, but, as the text explains, he was kept on at the monastery because he was needed as a skilled smith.
I MYSELF knew a brother, would to God I had not known him, whose name I could mention if it were of any avail, dwelling in a famous monastery, but himself living infamously. He was oftentimes rebuked by the brethren and elders of the place, and admonished to be converted to a more chastened life; and though he would not give ear to them, they bore with him long and patiently, on account of their need of his outward service, for he was a cunning artificer. But he was much given to drunkenness, and other pleasures of a careless life, and more used to stop in his workshop day and night, than to go to church to sing and pray and hear the Word of life with the brethren. For which reason it befell him according to the saying, that he who will not willingly humble himself and enter the gate of the church must needs be led against his will into the gate of Hell, being damned.
For he falling sick, and being brought to extremity, called the brethren, and with much lamentation, like one damned, began to tell them, that he saw Hell opened, and Satan sunk in the depths thereof; and Caiaphas, with the others that slew our Lord, hard by him, delivered up to avenging flames. "In whose neighborhood," said he, "I see a place of eternal perdition prepared for me, miserable wretch that I am." The brothers, hearing these words, began diligently to exhort
him, that he should repent even then, whilst he was still in the flesh. He answered in despair, "There is no time for me now to change my course of life, when I have myself seen my judgment passed."
Whilst uttering these words, he died without having received the saving Viaticum, and his body was buried in the farthest parts of the monastery, nor did any one dare either to say Masses or sing psalms, or even to pray for him. Oh how far asunder hath God put light from darkness! The blessed Stephen, the first martyr, being about to suffer death for the truth, saw the heavens opened, and the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God; and where he was to be after death, there he fixed the eyes of his mind, that he might die the more joyfully. But this workman, of darkened mind and life, when death was at hand, saw Hell opened, and witnessed the damnation of the Devil and his followers; he saw also, unhappy wretch! his own prison among them, to the end that, despairing of salvation, he might himself die the more miserably, but might by his perdition afford cause of salvation to the living, who should hear of it. This befell of late in the province of the Bernicians, and being noised abroad far and near, inclined many to do penance for their sins without delay.
Would to God that this also might come to pass through the reading of our words!
HOW ANOTHER CONTRARY-WISE BEFORE HIS DEATH SAW A BOOK CONTAINING HIS SINS, WHICH WAS SHOWN HIM BY DEVILS
OR VISION OF A THANE
A vision in chapter 13 of of Bede’ s Historia of a man of Mercia, which is not a vision of the otherworld, but more a visitation of devils and angels to the bedside of a suffering sinner.
BUT contrary-wise there was a man in the province of the Mercians, whose visions and words, but not his manner of life, were of profit to others, though not to himself. In the reign of Coenred, who succeeded Ethelred, there was a layman who was a king’s attendant, no less acceptable to the king for his outward industry, than displeasing to him for his neglect of his own soul. The king diligently admonished him to confess and amend, and to forsake his evil ways, lest he should lose all time for repentance and amendment by a sudden death.
But though frequently warned, he despised the words of salvation, and promised that he would do penance at some future time. In the meantime, falling sick he betook himself to his bed, and was tormented with grievous pains. The king coming to him, for he loved the man much, exhorted him, even then, before death, to repent of his offenses. But he answered that he would not then confess his sins, but would do it when he was recovered of his sickness, lest his companions should upbraid him with having done that for fear of death, which he had refused to do in health. He thought he spoke very bravely, but it afterwards appeared that he had been miserably deceived by the wiles of the Devil.
The disease increasing, when the king came again to visit and instruct him, he cried out straightway with a lamentable voice, "What will you now? What are you come for? for you can no longer do aught for my profit or salvation." The king answered, "Say not so; take heed and be of sound mind." "I am not mad," replied he, "but I now know the worst and have it for certain before my eyes." "What is that?" said the king. "Not long since," said he, "there came into this room two fair youths, and sat down by me, the one at my head, and the other at my feet. One of them drew forth a book most beautiful, but very small, and gave it me to read; looking into it, I there found all the good actions I had ever done in my life written down, and they were very few and inconsiderable. They took back the book and said nothing to me. Then, on a sudden, appeared an army of evil spirits of hideous countenance, and they beset this house without, and sitting down filled the greater part of it within. Then he, who by the blackness of his gloomy face, and his sitting above the rest, seemed to be the chief of them, taking out a book terrible to behold, of a monstrous size, and of almost insupportable weight, commanded one of his followers to bring it to me to read.
Having read it, I found therein most plainly written in hideous characters, all the crimes I ever committed, not only in word and deed, but even in the least thought; and he said to those glorious men in white raiment who sat by me, ‘Why sit ye here, since ye know of a surety that this man is ours?’ They answered, ‘Ye speak truly; take him and lead him away to fill up the measure of your damnation.’ This said, they forthwith vanished, and two wicked spirits arose, having in their hands ploughshares, and one of them struck me on the head, and the other on the foot. And these ploughshares are now with great torment creeping into the inward parts of my body, and as soon as they meet I shall die, and the devils being ready to snatch me away, I shall be dragged into the dungeons of hell."
Thus spoke that wretch in his despair, and soon after died, and now in vain suffers in eternal torments that penance which he failed to suffer for a short time with the fruits of forgiveness. Of whom it is manifest, that, as the blessed Pope Gregory writes of certain persons, he did not see these things for his own sake, since they did not avail him, but for the sake of others, who, knowing of his end, should be afraid to put off the time of repentance, whilst they have leisure, lest, being prevented by sudden death, they should perish impenitent.
And whereas he saw diverse books laid before him by the good and evil spirits, this was done by Divine dispensation, that we may keep in mind that our deeds and thoughts are not scattered to the winds, but are all kept to be examined by the Supreme Judge, and will in the end be shown us either by friendly angels or by the enemy. And whereas the angels first drew forth a white book, and then the devils a black one; the former a very small one, the latter one very great; it is to be observed, that in his first years he did some good actions, all which he nevertheless obscured by the evil actions of his youth.
If, contrary-wise, he had taken care in his youth to correct the errors of his boyhood, and by well-doing to put them away from the sight of God, he might have been admitted to the fellowship of those of whom the Psalm says, "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered."
This story, as I learned it of the venerable Bishop Pechthelm, I have thought good to set forth plainly, for the salvation of such as shall read or hear it.
THE PROPHECY OF ZARDUŠT REGARDING CHRIST
The name Zardušt is another spelling for Zoroaster and this prophecy is attributed to him. Zoroaster was born between the 18th and 6th century BC and was an Iranian/Persian prophet and philosopher and the founder of Zoroastrianism. In the Syriac Infancy Gospel of the Saviour it states, “And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem of Judea, in the time of King Herod, behold, Magi came from the east to Jerusalem, as Zoroaster had predicted; and there were with them gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And they adored Him, and presented to Him their gifts. Then the Lady Mary took one of the swaddling-bands, and, on account of the smallness of her means, gave it to them; and they received it from her with the greatest marks of honor.”
When Zardušt was sitting by the spring of waters named Gloša of Horin, the place where the ancient royal bath stood, he opened his mouth and spoke to his disciples Guštasp, Sasan, and Mahman, saying ‘I tell you, my beloved ones and sons whom I have educated in my teachings. Hearken, for I shall reveal to you a marvelous secret concerning the great king who is going to come in the world. In the fullness of time and at the end of the final age an infant will be conceived and its members shaped within the womb of a virgin, without a man approaching her. He will be like a tree with lovely foliage and copious fruit that stands in a parched place. The inhabitants of that place will obstruct his growth, and struggle to uproot him from the ground, but they will not succeed. Then they shall seize him and put him to death upon a tree, and heaven and earth will sit in mourning due to his murder, and the generations of the peoples will mourn him. He will begin by descending to the abyss of the earth, and from the abyss he will be exalted to the height. Then he will reappear when he comes with an army of light, riding upon bright clouds, for he is the child conceived by the word which established the natural order.’
Guštasp said to Zardušt: ‘This one of whom you speak all these things—from where does his power come? Is he greater than you, or are you greater than he?’ Zardušt replied to him: ‘He shall arise from my lineage and family. I am he, and he is me; he is in me, and I in him. When the advent of his coming is made manifest, great signs will appear in heaven, and a bright star will appear in the midst of heaven, whose light will surpass the light of the sun. Now, my sons, you who are the seed of life which came forth from the treasuries of life and of light and of spirit, and who were sown in a place of fire and water, it is necessary for you to watch and guard these things which I have told you so that you can look for his appointed time. For you will be the first to perceive the arrival of that great king, the one whom the prisoners await so that they can be released. And now, my sons, preserve the secret which I have revealed to you, and let it be inscribed upon your hearts, and may it be preserved in the treasuries of your souls. When that star which I told you about rises, you shall dispatch messengers bearing gifts, and they shall offer worship to him and present the gifts to him. Do not be neglectful, so that you not perish by the sword, for he is the king of kings, and all kings receive their crowns from him. I and he are one.’
These things were uttered by that second Balaam. As is customary, either God forced him to expound them; or he derived from a people who were conversant with the symbolic prophecies about Christ, and he predicted them.
THE TESTAMENT OF ADAM
Shorter Syriac Recension Fragment
S. E. Robinson writes: "The three sections of the Testament of Adam were not written at the same time, but the final Christian redaction, in which the testament took on its present form, probably occurred in the middle or late third century A.D. This tentative date for the final redaction of the Testament of Adam is supported by several bits of evidence. First, the testament is familiar with the Christian traditions found in the New Testament and must therefore be dated after, say, A.D. 100. Second, part of the Prophecy section is quoted in the Syriac Transitus Mariae, which is dated in the late fourth century. Third, the Testament of Adam demonstrates a literary relationship at one point with the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah, which is dated in the third century A.D. Ordinarily this might be due to copying at some later date, but here the Testament of Adam seems to preserve the passage (a description of the signs of the Messiah) in a more original form than does the Apocalypse of Elijah and should probably not be dated after that document." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, p. 990)
Adam said to Seth his son: ‘I have heard, my son, that God will come to the world after a long time. He will be conceived by a virgin and wear a body and be born like a human being and mature like a child. He will perform signs and wonders upon earth—walking upon the waves of the sea, rebuking the winds so that they abate, beckoning the waves that they cease rolling, opening the eyes of the blind, cleansing lepers, causing the deaf to hear, giving speech to the mute, straightening those who are bent, strengthening the paralyzed, finding the lost, expelling devils, casting out demons.
For He said to me in Paradise after I had plucked some of the fruit which concealed Death within it: "Adam, Adam, do not fear. You wished to become a god. I shall make you a god, not now, but after a period of many years. I shall deliver you over to Death, and the maggot and worm will consume your body."
I answered, saying to him, "Why, my Lord?" He said to me: "Because you hearkened to the words of the serpent, you and your descendants shall serve as food for the serpent. But after a brief time mercy shall be shown to you, for you were created in My image, and I will not abandon you to waste away in Sheol. For your sake I shall be born from the virgin Miriam, and for your sake I shall experience Death and enter the realm of Death. For your sake I shall fashion new heavens, and I shall set your descendants in positions of authority among them. After three days in the grave, I shall resuscitate the body which I wore on your account, and I shall set you at the right hand of My divine station, and I shall make you divine like you wished. I accept this freely, and shall restore you and your descendants, for this is the justice of heaven."
I also learned, my son Seth, that a Flood will come and purge the entire earth on account of the descendants of Cain your brother. Because of his jealousy for Lebuda your sister, he murdered your brother Abel. Similarly, due to your mother Eve, sins came into existence. And after the Flood, the years for the continued appearance of the world will be 6000 years. And then its end will come.’
And I Seth wrote down this testament. My father died and was buried east of Paradise, opposite the first city to be built on earth, which was named Enoch. Adam was accompanied to the grave by angels and heavenly powers because he was created in the image of God. The sun and moon grew dark, and there was thick darkness for seven days. We sealed the testament and placed it in the Cave of Treasures with the offerings which Adam had brought out from Paradise—gold, myrrh, and incense. And the Magi, the sons of kings, came and removed them, and brought them to the Son of God in the cave at Bethlehem of Judaea.
Finished is the testament of our ancestor Adam.